How to Measure the Value of Your Volunteers

Measure the Value of Your Volunteer WorkDo you measure the work of your volunteers? Can you quote with confident how much economic value your volunteers add to your organization?

Work by the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies has shown that, even conservatively estimated, the value of volunteer work in countries throughout the world is roughly double the value of contributions of cash or other valuables by individuals, corporations, and foundations put together. That’s a staggering thought – that our volunteers are worth twice as much as our donors.

But how do we actually measure the value of these volunteers?

The International Labour Organization and the Johns Hopkins University Center for Civil Society Studies recently announced the release of a new manual to help statistical agencies around the world track the amount, type and value of volunteer work in their countries. This is the first-ever internationally sanctioned guidance to statistical agencies for generating reliable, official data on volunteer work using a common definition and approach.

While the manual is meant for countries and other governing bodies to present large-scale data, much of the content is relevant for nonprofits and volunteer managers, and could be scaled down to help us all better track our volunteers:

Why Measure Volunteer Work?

Based on previous research, and what we as nonprofit staff experience every single day, there’s no question that volunteers create economic value. All told, it’s estimated that volunteers contribute around $400 billion to the global economy, in unique ways that complement that of paid workers.

Despite the fact that many international organizations are now formally recognizing the importance and contribution of volunteer work, existing data systems fail to capture volunteer work consistently, and little effort has gone into remedying this.

What is not counted, however, cannot be effectively managed, so there is a great need for a streamlined way to measure volunteer work. This will contribute to improved management of volunteer work among nonprofits around the world, and will encourage public policies that are conducive to volunteer work.

Defining Volunteer Work

While recognizing all of the complicated factors involved in coming up with a global definition of volunteer work, here is the manual’s proposed definition:

“Unpaid non-compulsory work; that is, time individuals give without pay to activities performed either through an organization or directly for others outside their own household.”

There are several aspects of this definition that need some explanation:

  • Work refers to activities that produce goods and/or services that bring value to the recipients.
  • Unpaid work still allows for things like reimbursements, food, and some types of stipends.
  • Non-compulsory means the volunteers are not legally or otherwise required to perform the work. So court-mandated community service and volunteering required for graduation would NOT count as volunteer work.

Economic Value of Volunteer Work

The manual adopts the replacement-cost method of measuring volunteer work. This assigns to the hours of volunteer work what it would cost to hire someone for pay to do the work. This comes closest, the manual submits, to measuring the value of volunteering to society at large.

Tools for Making It Happen

The manual doesn’t just discuss volunteer measurement in theory, but provides tools for helping countries perform these analyses. For example, it provides:

  • A procedure for adapting the data collection methodology, and for training interviewers and coders.
  • Chart templates to help present the data once it’s collected.
  • Tools for classifying volunteer work, since things rarely translate easily from one nonprofit and one country to another.

This is the closest we’ve come yet to a single definition for volunteer work, and a single way of measuring its value. If we all adopt it, or something like it, hopefully we’ll be better able to share knowledge and improve the sector together.

What do you think of this new manual? Will it impact how you run or track your volunteer program?